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Tuesday March 28th 2023

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That's what she said

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Height Limit Workaround Is Working in Boulder


A few months ago, a new Boulder resident submitted plans to the city for an accessory structure that exceeded the maximum height limit set by our building code.  Rather than have the architect design the structure to comply with existing code, the new Boulderite approached the immediate neighbors to sign off on the project and managed to convince the planning staff to approve the height violation in a site review.  As a nearby, but not adjacent neighbor, I received a notification about this decision and objected to it, which sent the issue to the Planning Board on April 7th.  During the Planning Board discussion, one of the board members wanted to know which neighbor was responsible for bringing the issue to the board, implying that my concerns were not relevant because I did not live adjacent to this specific project. The board ignored my concerns and approved (5-2) the violation of the maximum height primarily because the immediate neighbors did not object.

I would like the City Council to revisit this decision because the Planning Board ignored the following site review criteria when they approved this height violation:

  1. Building height is supposed to be “compatible with the existing character of the area.”  The architect for this project admits in a letter to the planning staff that this structure “might feel large” in my neighborhood which is directly adjacent to this neighborhood and is part of the existing character of the area.  My property backs up to a lot that will likely be redeveloped with a large accessory structure.  There is no alley to buffer me from the adjacent lot and a 20-ft high accessory structure will loom over our backyard.  The last thing I want is another 3 feet of height added to that structure.
  2. The orientation of the building exceeding the height limit is supposed to minimize the “blocking of views from adjacent properties.”  The placement of this 52-ft long, 20-ft high accessory structure maximizes the impact on views on the neighboring property as it is situated north and south along the east property line and is placed as close as possible to the side yard setback.  Although the adjacent neighbor did not object, that does not change the fact that a large portion of the views to the west will be blocked by this structure.  The Planning Board decision to allow 3 more feet in height will magnify that impact.  Site review also requires that noise be minimized.  The orientation of the building actually maximizes noise to the neighbor to the east as the outdoor condenser of the cooling unit will face that direction.

I believe the Planning Board decision sets a bad precedent, but planning staff claims that it does not meet the true definition of precedent.  However, during the board meeting the Executive Director of the Planning Department stated “that to the extent that every change causes a little change in the character, that is something that will probably be considered in the next application.”  This indicates to me that this decision will likely influence future requests for height violations.  One of the board members who voted against this height violation wanted to know the threshold of where the city will draw the line.  I have the same concern since the only parameter that appears to be relevant to the Planning Board is the opinion of the directly adjacent neighbors.

Land use decisions should be based on our building code, not by whether the immediate neighbors can be convinced to sign off on a project.  One purpose of our building code is to “preserve the character and stability of neighborhoods and conserve property values.”  Making decisions based on the opinions of the neighbors, rather than using this guideline, compromises and weakens our building code.

If this issue concerns you, please speak during Public Participation at the May 3rd City Council meeting.  The height modification that was approved by Planning Board may be revisited by council, but only if at least four members agree to discuss the item.  Hopefully the City Council will reverse the decision of the Planning Board.  If they don’t, it sends a clear, loud message to the development community that violations of the building code are welcome in this town.

April 7 Planning Board Presentation/Public Hearing:

April 7 Planning Board Discussion:

April 7 Planning Board packet:




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